Autopsy reports show cruelty of killings, body disposal in Christopher Watts case
WELD COUNTY — Autopsy reports released Monday afternoon reveal in the greatest detail so far what, exactly, Christopher Watts pleaded guilty to, and why he’ll serve the rest of his life in prison.
The reports for Watts’ pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, 34; Bella Watts, 4; and Celeste Watts, 3; show Watts killed his family intimately, by strangling Shanann and smothering his two daughters even while Bella fought back, biting her tongue and cheeks in the process.
When it was all over, Watts stuffed Bella’s 38-pound body through an 8-inch hole in an oil tank, scraping her arms and legs in the process. She was found three days later, in a pink, pajama-style top featuring hearts and butterflies.
Her sister, Celeste, was found in a pink top and diaper in an adjacent oil tank near Hudson.
The Weld County Coroner on Oct. 15 filed a petition to seal the autopsy reports in the Watts case, echoing a similar motion made by Weld District Attorney Michael Rourke, who argued the release of the reports could taint a potential jury pool.
The Tribune and numerous media partners fought the sealing of the reports, and after Watts pleaded guilty, Coroner Carl Blesch said he would release the reports after the sentencing hearing.
Blesch released all three autopsy reports about 1:45 p.m. Monday, after Rourke hosted a news conference and answered questions about the reports.
Questions had swirled about the exact nature of the crime after Watts’ initial defense, that he witnessed his wife strangling Bella and Celeste, and he killed her in a fit of rage, was raised. The defense went so far as to request the coroner conduct DNA swabs of the necks of the children, a request Judge Marcelo Kopcow denied.
Indeed, the children were apparently smothered, according to the autopsy reports.
The time of death was not determined in the reports, but the three were last seen alive Aug. 13, and all were found and pronounced dead Aug. 16.
Watts showed up to work the next day within feet of his two daughters, and Shanann, who was buried in a shallow grave not far from Watts’ Anadarko job site.
During a sentencing hearing that saw Watts receive consecutive life sentences for his crimes, Weld District Court Judge Marcelo Kopcow called Watts’ actions, especially those after the killings, the most inhumane he had seen in his 17 years as a judge.
“You carried them out like trash,” Shanann’s dad, Frank Rzucek said at the Monday morning hearing.
Shanann had paper bags around each of her hands, and her fetus, Baby Nico, had been partially expelled from her body, and was covered in dirt and sand.
The girls, Bella and Celeste, sitting for days in oil tanks containing unprocessed crude oil, had the stuff in their throats and stomachs and lungs.
Shanann, Bella and Celeste were each pronounced dead at different times, highlighting the difficulty of the recovery process that started with tapping into Watts’ GPS monitor in his Anadarko work truck.
Shanann was pronounced dead at 5 a.m. Aug. 16, with Celeste (3:40 p.m.) and Bella (5:50 p.m.) coming later.
Watts had no injuries of his own from the killings, but Shanann had bruising around her neck consistent with strangulation.
There weren’t similar marks with the girls, who were determined to have been smothered.
Weld District Attorney Michael Rourke during the sentencing hearing Monday described the horror Shanann must have felt as Watts, the person she loved — the person who was supposed to love her — strangled her to death.
“It takes 2 to 4 minutes to strangle someone to death manually,” Rourke said at Monday’s hearing.
Rourke said the fear Bella and Celeste must have felt must have been worse.
Shanann’s mom, Sandra Rzucek, tried to put into words the betrayal they felt when she made her statement at the hearing.
“We loved you like a son,” she said. “We trusted you. Your daughter sang you a song…’Daddy, you’re my hero.'”
— Tyler Silvy is the deputy editor for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.